From Mars to Massapequa, there is something we all do, some of us with quite a lot of passion: eating. Eating is as natural and necessary as breathing, though just like breathing can be enhanced by a field of fresh air, eating can be enhanced by a similarly pleasant experience: cooking.
Cooking can be many things: a survival mechanism, a hobby, a science, an art, or even a craft. For those of us lucky enough to have talented cooks in our family, you’ll positively recall glancing at the chef with amazement as they transform three ingredients into a full-sized, full-flavored dish. Hence the fact very few people can convince me that cooking isn’t also a form of witchcraft.
One thing cooking shouldn’t be is out of reach to the common citizen. It is possible to spend your whole life eating fast-food, but is it worth it? In 2004, Morgan Spurlock experimented eating exclusively McDonald’s food for a month, in a documentary called Super Size Me. Needless to say that, along with the extra 24 pounds, he gained a whole lot of health issues.
Do you want to hear a really great argument on how you should be the one making your own food? I’ll tell you anyway: If someone else is making your food, how can you be one hundred percent sure somebody’s not trying to poison you?
Yes, let that simmer…
Cooking: A Great Alternative to Being Poisoned
It is fair to assume that you’ve been currently spending a bit more time at home, so why not use that time to learn a new skill that can both impress your friends AND keep you alive?
If you happen to be new to the culinary world, perhaps you should get to know the basics before attempting to make a five-course-meal. There is no need for fear when taking your first steps in the kitchen because cooking can really be as simple as making scrambled eggs on toast. From there on out, the sky’s the limit.
Nowadays it is easier than ever to learn this new craft since we have an almighty, readily-available helper: the Internet. A five-minute search online will render you an infinity of recipes along with video explanations, step-by-step, that can guarantee you a safe spot behind the family oven. Even if you struggle with your Wi-Fi connection, just turn on the TV, as you will probably find a cooking show to tune in to.
We will admit that sometimes it can be a bit frustrating trying to follow a recipe, and all of a sudden someone mentions an ingredient you can only find for 23 days a year in a cave deep in Uruguay. We get it. Thankfully, so does the Internet, ergo the existence of websites that present you with a cascade of options for you to seize that forgotten old lettuce in the vegetable drawer. In fact, if Horace was alive today, the motto would definitely be: “Seize The Week-Old-Vegetables-You-Neglected”.
As you commence your epicurean adventure, you’ll find that there are quite a number of different ways of dealing with food; from boiling, to roasting, to eating it raw, there is pretty much a technique for everything. We’re here to let you know about a highly useful one in particular: simmering.
Simmering: How Hot Can It Be?
Typically used when making soups, broths, stocks, and stews, simmering is a technique in which food is prepared in a moist-heat method: solids are cooked in hot liquid. The essential question is: how hot?
The temperature of the liquid whilst you develop your simmer needs to be higher than a poach and lower than a boil. In case we want to get scientific, the precise water temperatures for these techniques are:
- Poaching: 160ºF-180ºF // 61ºC- 82ºC
- Simmering: 185ºF- 211ºF // 85ºC – 99ºC
- Boiling: 212ºF // 100ºC
Notice how we’ve mentioned water and not liquids in general – in those cases, the temperature can vary and, fun fact, it can also differ regarding altitude! The higher you are the colder you get, so watch out for that chilly stock.
If, by chance, you do not have a food thermometer lying around, a great trick to know what you are dealing with is observing the liquid’s characteristics.
With poaching temperature, you’ll see tiny bubbles forming at the bottom of the pot, although everything’s pretty much undisturbed. This is useful for cooking delicate ingredients such as eggs, which benefit not being jostled around too much.
When it comes to simmering, there are three variations:
- Slow simmer: in lower heat, the liquid starts fizzling. Maybe you’ll spot a bubble or two but there’s not much activity other than that. Used commonly for stocks and braises.
- Medium simmer: with medium-low heat, tiny bubbles multiply and become more expressive without losing their gentle quality. Used for soups, stews, sauces, and braises.
- Rapid simmer: in medium-high heat, the little bubbles become more aggressive, bumping into each other without even a word of apology. The water dances slowly in the pot. Used for reducing sauces.
When boiling, you’ll be using high heat and watch larger bubbles appear as the liquid violently rolls around the pot in a punk party you haven’t been invited to. Because of its high temperatures, it is best to use this technique when it comes to pasta, for example, for if you try it with meat or vegetables, you might end up with something mushy on the outside and raw on the inside.
Tips and Benefits of Simmering
Wondering how to quickly achieve a steady simmer without letting it get to a boil? Flip it around! Start by bringing the liquid to a boil and then reduce the temperature until you can make the observations we indicated above. Remember that if you add a lid to your pot, the temperature will increase, so it’s best to keep it uncovered and supervised. Like a referee of the bubbles.
Considering the stable temperature and the gentle movement of the liquid, ingredients are therefore cooked in synergy as they are both releasing flavors into the liquid, graciously bumping into each other, and absorbing all the tastes they’ve been spouting. The slow-cooking allows the flavors to develop and later flourish in your mouth.
Simmering is highly beneficial when it comes to cooking tough cuts of meat. The culprit of your meat being chewy and hard is a protein many people yearn for in domains other than the kitchen: collagen. When heated to simmering temperatures, those connective tissues melt and turn into gelatin, coating your meat and making it moist and succulent.
Simmering harmonizes taste with nutrition since the nutrients in your food stay in the pot due to the liquid retaining all that good stuff. And it’s that good stuff that is going to keep you sturdy in sickness and in health; a vow made possible by our knowledge of nature. Once again, thank you Internet.
The kitchen can be the birth-place of many wonderful things. It can also birth some things that are worth playing a part in Eraserhead. The main bit is to leave the sweating to your pots and pans and sincerely having fun.
When you decide to give simmering a try, remember one thing: Obelix had the magic potion, we’ve got soup water.
Thank you for reading!